Despite Chile’s reputation as one of the safest and most politically stable countries in South America, on Friday the 18th of October, protests erupted in various neighbourhoods across the capital city, Santiago, and have since spread to other cities across the country.
The protests began following a 4% hike in fares for Santiago’s metro service, with university students and high-school students calling on passengers to jump over the metro turnstiles to avoid paying the higher fees.
Since then, the protests have developed to encompass a movement to force the right-wing government, led by sitting president Sebastián Piñera, to improve living conditions. The context of the demonstrations is a society where rising living costs and low wages have resulted in high levels of inequality.
Over the past 22 days, these demonstrations have escalated to violent protest, with metro stations and other buildings set alight. After President Piñera announced a State of Emergency, the military was deployed and over 20,000 soldiers are now on the streets of the capital and in other parts of the country.
On Friday 25th of October, an estimated 1.2 million people marched through Santiago in protest, a number that represents more than 5% of the country’s population. This was the largest demonstration of its kind since the country returned to democracy following the Pinochet dictatorship of the 70s and 80s.
Water cannons and tear gas have been used to disperse protesters and the current death toll stands at at least 20, with hundreds believed to have partially lost sight due to being shot by rubber bullets. Accusations of the use of extreme force and torture by the military and police are being investigated by the Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Institute of Human Rights), while the UN is also sending a team to investigate these claims.
On Monday 28th of October, Piñera fired and replaced eight members of his cabinet in an attempt at quelling the protests. However, many protesters are instead calling for his resignation.
How will international visitors be affected by the protests in Chile?
There are country-wide protests being held TODAY (Tuesday 12th November) which will involve barricades throughout Santiago and will cause significant disruption to public transport and services to the airport. This will also affect public transport throughout the country. You may not be able to travel today; consult the bus terminal or your airline for further information about how this will impact travel.
Many of the protests are non-violent, however arson and looting have taken place. Ongoing strikes, led by the Central Union of Workers, in addition to informal protests have taken place over the past few days.
Protests, while initially concentrated in Santiago, have since spread across most cities in the country.
In many cases, the protests and marches are peaceful, but road blocks have prevented buses and other transport from travelling in different parts of the country.
On-the-ground experience from a Worldly Adventurer reader:
If you speak Spanish, Chilean news agency T13 has rolling coverage of the protests and updates on their website, as does BioBio Chile on their Twitter account. The Santiago Municipality’s Twitter account also has information about the status of tourist attractions in the capital, as do Disfruta Santiago.
Fake news proliferated via social media platforms has been rampant, so please do be critical about any news that you read and ensure that it comes from a legitimate news source.
Updates about specific regions and towns
In general, protests are calming and disruption is now significantly reduced across the country, with government imposed curfews now lifted and the government imposed State of Emergency has also been lifted.
- In San Pedro de Atacama, road blocks had prevented vehicles from leaving the town and all tours were cancelled. It appears these road blocks have since been removed and tours are operating as usual.
- All information for Santiago is listed below. In general, disruption is continuing, with most tourist attractions in central Santiago closed or with reduced hours. Avoiding Santiago and continuing straight on to regional destinations is instead recommended. If you must stay in the city, it is still recommended to avoid accommodations in the Downtown (Plaza de Armas and surroundings), Av. Alameda and Plaza Italia area, as these have been the focal point of the protests and could face disruption if they reignite. In the past week, demonstrations have centred around the Costanera Center and along Avenida Providencia (between Plaza Italia and Tobalaba). Most tourist neighbourhoods such as Lastarria and Italia are open during the day and their hotels are still open; note that protests generally begin in the afternoon, so keep tourist activities to the morning (2pm) and you should be fine. The La Vega market is open as usual. Road blocks caused by taxi drivers protesting toll booths on Santiago highway today (Thursday 7th Nov) have prevented transport from reaching the airport; I don’t know if these are planned to continue tomorrow so it is integral that you confirm this information with transfer services (TransVip and Delfos) at least 24 hours before you need to reach the airport. This website has information about the state of tourist attractions in the city.
- Travellers have reported violent protests and lots of damage in Valparaiso. While protests are calming, it is recommended to continue giving the city a wide berth.
- Pomaire is calm, with peaceful protests but otherwise everything happening as normal (Thanks to Diego from Bicigreda Tours for this update).
- A large protest broke out on Monday 28th on Ruta 5 at the turn off for Maullín and is currently obstructing the passage of traffic to the crossing for Chiloé Island. On the island itself, peaceful protests are still taking place, but life is otherwise running as normal.
- Travellers have reported peaceful protests in Puerto Varas.
- Tourists have reported ATMs running out of cash in Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. It is recommended you withdraw cash before arriving in the region. Aside from this, businesses, restaurants and hotels are operating like usual – happy to receive guests and visitors. Ground transportation (buses and taxis) in the Magallanes region are running like normal with no delays. There are some peaceful (consisting of singing, dancing, chanting, and peaceful gatherings of people) demonstrations in the central areas in both Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales where official and government offices are located. No curfew is currently in place in this region. (Thanks to Chile Nativo for this update).
If you are currently travelling in Chile or planning a trip there in the next few weeks, read the following information carefully to prepare you for what is happening:
- Many international and domestic flights were cancelled, but are now more-or-less running as normal. You can find up-to-date information about the status of flights into Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago’s international airport, online via their official website or, better still, by directly contacting your airline. Travellers have reported being able to cancel their flights to Chile for free (although this will likely depend on the airline) given the volatility of the current situation.
- Those with domestic flights that have been cancelled have reported being accommodated onto earlier or later flights that still have space. If your flight is cancelled, it’s worth turning up at the airport and finding out if they have space on any other planes leaving that day.
- The Chilean government declared a State of Emergency that has since been removed; the curfews that were in place have now been lifted across the country.
- Airport transfer services including TransVip and Delfos are still operating as normal and can be booked online. However, today (Thursday 7th Nov), a large strike blockaded access to the airport from Santiago. Confirm by contacting your transfer service at least 24 hours in advance of your planned transfer to ensure that everything is working as necessary.
- Public transport, including the metro and services to and from the airport are operating regularly throughout the day. Many stations along the metro were damaged in the initial protests and some still remain closed. You can find the status of the various lines online at the official website. Currently, Line One is operating between Pajaritos and Los Domincos (with the stations Baquedano, Los Héroes and Santa Lucia closed); Line Two is operating between Zapadores and La Cisterna, with only El Parrón, Lo Ovalle, Lo Vial, El Llano, Franklin, Rondizzoni, Parque O’Higgins, Toesca, Santa Ana, Cal y Canto, Cerro Blanco, Cementerios, Einstein and Dorsal open. Line Three is operating between Los Libertadores and Fernando Castillo Velasco, with Los Libertadores, Vivaceta, Conchalí, Plaza Chacabuco, Hospitales, Cal y Canto, Plaza de Armas, Universidad de Chile, Matta, Irarrázaval, Monseñor Eyzaguirre, Ñuñoa, Chile España, Villa Frei, Plaza Egaña and Fernando Castillo Velasco open; Line Four is operating between Tobalaba and Quilin with Cristóbal Colón, Francisco Bilbao, Príncipe de Gales, Simón Bolívar, Plaza Egaña, Los Orientales, Grecia and Los Presidentes open; Line Five is operating between Vicente Valdés and Quinta Normal, with Santa Ana, Plaza de Armas, Bellas Artes, Parque Bustamante, Santa Isabel, Ñuble, Irarrázaval, Rodrigo de Araya, Carlos Valdovinos, Camino Agrícola, Mirador and Bellavista La Florida open. Line Six is operating between Cerrillos and Los Leones, with Cerrillos, Lo Valledor, Franklin, Ñuble, Ñuñoa, Inés de Suárez and Los Leones open. Note that metro stations are been closed temporarily when their are protests in their vicinity.
- Bus stations in Santiago are opening are usual.
- Central and Downtown Santiago have borne the brunt of the demonstrations. Demonstrations are based around Plaza Italia (the southern edge of Barrio Bellavista and main focal point of protests), La Moneda and the Plaza de Armas. The Costanera Center (the eastern end of Providencia) has seen protests in the past few days and the road between Plaza Italia and the Costanera Center (the metro stop Tobalaba) are now the main focal point for protests.
- Neighbourhoods in the east of the city such Las Condes and Vitacura are not as affected by protests as the neighbourhoods downtown (around Plaza Italia, Plaza de Armas and La Moneda). If you are travelling to Santiago, it is recommend to avoid accommodation too close to these locations. Avoid accommodation along Avenida Providencia.
- All of the tourist neighbourhoods can be visited during the day and are generally operating as normal, however protests tend to begin from 2pm, so it is recommended to not be on the streets at these times. Most museums are either closed or facing partial opening hours.
- Banks, shops and supermarkets are operating as normal in most locations.
Recommendations on the ground from local tour operator Chile Nativo:
Travelling outside of Santiago
Bus services are generally running as usual.
Domestic flights are operating as usual.
Both the US State Department and British Foreign Office recommend the following:
- Be aware of your surroundings to avoid walking unintentionally into the path of a protest.
- Do not actively seek out demonstrations. You could face arrest, detention or be banned from returning to the country if you are caught taking part in any sort of protest. The Guardian has published footage showing police firing at protesters, so getting involved in a demonstration is extremely dangerous.
- If you find yourself within the vicinity of a demonstration, find a safe place to shelter. This can take the form of a café or restaurant, supermarket or any other nearby building, or try and get away from the location of the protest as quickly as possible.
What does this mean for trips to Chile in the next few weeks and months?
There is no predicting whether the situation will become resolved in the next week or whether it’ll take even longer. The State of Emergency has been lifted and Piñera has fired and replaced eight members of his cabinet in an attempt at quelling the protests, with protesters instead calling for his resignation. However, following Friday’s large march, the situation has calmed considerably, although protests arestill breaking out across the country.
If you have a trip booked for the next few months, it is highly unlikely that you will be affected by the current situation, however it is entirely impossible to guarantee this. Many people living in Santiago are recommending that tourists give the city (and that of neighbouring Valparaiso) a wide berth.
As a country with a robust political system (at least since the dictatorship ended in 1989), Chile does not have a modern history of sustained and violent protests.
On a personal note, having lived in Chile for three years, I find it highly unlikely that the current situation will continue much longer.
However, it is recommended you keep an eye on the situation and consult the relevant travel advisories as issued by your government.
- In the US, the State Department has a series of travel advisories in place. They also recommend you enrol in the US Government’s Smart Traveller Enrolment Program to ensure that you get alerts about the current situation
- In the UK, the Foreign Office has also released travel advisories.
Further reading and information
This article isn’t intended to take a political stance on the situation, however, I am fully in support of any peaceful protesting by local people who deserve to live a dignified life, free of inequality and with full access to health care, education and a decent living wage.
If you are interested in learning more about the political context that predates the current protests, this English-language summary of the climate of governmental corruption and disproportionate use of sentencing for civilians and politicians matched with and a rise in living standards and inequality is an excellent place to start.
The New York Times have also written a balanced article examining how the Chilean neo-liberal economic system is failing its people.
Hashtags on Twitter that are being used by protesters and give a far broader view of what is happening (and what isn’t currently being reported in the media) include #ChileDespierta and #ChileNoEstaEnGuerra.